Just plain (Robbie) Fulks – January 2000
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Just plain (Robbie) Fulks  Print

By Joel Bernstein, January 2000

Robbie Fulks has become something of an expert in the workings of the record industry. Within less than two years, he's seen his albums released on a major label, via his web site and on an established independent label.

Fulks' first two albums "Country Love Songs" (1996) and "South Mouth" (1997) were released on Bloodshot. After the demise of his more rock-oriented 1998 major label album "Let's Kill Saturday Night" (and the Geffen label itself), Fulks is back on Bloodshot.

But first, while awaiting official release from his Geffen contract, Fulks could only sell his new album "The Very Best Of Robbie Fulks," over the Internet since last summer. In typical Fulks fashion, the album title is a joke, since this is just an odds-and-sods scrapbook of his career.

The 36-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist spoke from his Chicago area home just a few days after ushering in the new year with a show that was outlandish even for him, capped by his dressing in drag as Shania Twain to sing "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" - an occurrence he vows will not be repeated.

Not only is the album's title a joke, but the liner notes are such a mixture of truth and fiction that even staunch fans may be confused. The recording dates given are all correct, although they don't always provide an accurate picture of a song's history.

"Jean Arthur," another Fulks tribute to an old-time movie star, ("She Took a Lot of Pills and Died," a tribute to actress Dorothy Dandridge was another) was a 1992 single. "The song isn't about anything particular to her. It's an argument for God's existence," says the man who has also written "God Isn't Real." "Songs from '92 or '89, I could do better now, but there's a quality, an innocence, that wouldn't be there. That means something to me and hopefully to others."

"Roots Rocks Weirdoes" is the newest song and scathingly pokes fun at the current retro craze. "Most of the time people are so happy to be sung about they don't care that it's not positive."

"That Bangle Girl," a valentine to Susanna Hoffs, was written in 1988, although this recording is a 1997 publishing demo. "I first recorded it in '90, and a friend interviewed her and played it and said she liked it. Someone at Dreamworks played her the new version, and she sent me something with her autograph."

"Parallel Bars," another new song, is a duet with Kelly Willis. (A different mix was on a Norwegian anthology album.) "As I was writing it, I realized it was a female duet, and it was her voice I was hearing. I called her up and begged her to sing with me. I was down at SXSW, and her husband, Bruce Robison, has recording equipment at home, so we just cut it there. I'd never met her before."

"You Break It - You Pay" was cut at The Skeletons' Missouri studio during "Country Love Songs" sessions. "I recorded it about 20 minutes after I got down there. It shows signs of being a hurried, first take kind of deal. But I'm comfortable with people hearing it."

The hidden track is an almost shockingly straight version of "Leaving On A Jet Plane." "I recorded it for some guys who said they wanted to do a tribute album to John Denver. They still say it's going to come out."

There are a couple of brief instrumentals which really are from a movie called "Jell-oh Lady" that Fulks recently scored. "It's a 20-minute movie that's shown at festivals and got picked up for distribution, whatever that means for a short film. The guy lived in my town. He'd hired some big name to do it. He didn't like what they'd done, but it used up all his money, so he asked me to help out. I didn't get much out of it money-wise, but it was a lot of fun. It's work-for-hire where you have expectations as to what you're going to turn in. You're tailoring something to what's already there."

Fulks has also had some of his songs picked up for movies, notably "We'll Burn Together," used in the black comedy "Very Bad Things." A song from his Nashville days, "She'll Go Down in Honky-Tonk History," was performed by his friend Dallas Wayne (co-writer of Fulks' "Rock Bottom Pop. 1") in a Barbara Mandrell TV bio-pic.

Dreamworks recently acquired all of Fulks' Nashville songs to go with some of his newer songs they already published. That pleases Fulks. "I've got a real strong advocate over there. Whatever occasional movie things that happen, it's his doing."

Fulks sometimes seems to revel in shocking his audience. On "Very Best," the song that will serve that purpose is the fanciful (and carnal) jungle adventure "White Man's Bourbon." The song was recorded at the sessions for "Country Love Songs." When it was over, "everybody stood around and stared at me funny. Ora Jones (a black woman who sang on "CLS") wouldn't talk to me afterwards. (Producer) Steve Albini said 'For what it's worth, I find it inoffensive.' That's when I knew it was way beyond the pale." (Albini's punk group, Big Black, is considered a pinnacle of tastelessness.)

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